When people think of Education majors studying abroad, many automatically imagine someone who is going to teach abroad. However, an Education major can benefit from study abroad without formally teaching in a foreign country. I participated in a week long study abroad opportunity on Andros Island in the Bahamas, and while there, I enjoyed cultural, professional, and intellectual development that I'm confident will prepare me for my future as an educator.
In the teaching profession, an educator must be able to understand and appreciate all cultures, particularly one’s own culture. However, if a teacher has not been exposed to a variety of cultures (through travel or study abroad), then he or she may have a difficult time achieving an understanding of not only other cultures, but also of their own.
Being exposed to the Bahamian culture gave me some of these new understandings. In an effort to live the same as the Bahamian people, I lived in a cabin with no air conditioning and plentiful bugs. I regularly interacted with the Bahamian people in their home and work environments and was continually humbled. I was able to discuss their belief systems, and each person time and again emphasized religion and its importance in his or her life. Because the lives of the people were so strongly influenced by their religious faith, I was required to dress modestly. I always had to cover my shoulders and wear pants to my knees, a very different wardrobe expectation than when living in the United States.
Studying abroad helped me advance my Bahamian cultural understanding and appreciation in a way that can only be done through first hand experiences.
During my trip to the Bahamas I was given the chance to help teach a group of second grade students. As I became familiarized with the Bahamian school system, I realized how different it was from the American school system. There, students do not use pencils, books, or other school supplies; instead, teachers are required to instruct by writing out visuals on the only chalkboard. Then, the students are required to repeat the teacher’s words.
Although this is not my ideal way of teaching, my discovery of this teaching style helped me acquire new skills for being more resourceful in my future classroom. Teachers should not let a lack of school supplies or other materials get in the way of true student learning. While beneficial, basic school supplies only advance students’ learning if they are used in an effective manner. After discussing with the Bahamian teacher our differing teaching styles, I realized the abundance of resources available to me as a teacher in American schools, and felt grateful for them. I feel challenged and motivated to utilize these materials productively in the classroom.
In the Bahamas, students are only required to attend school until sixth grade; therefore, I observed a culture that does not place an emphasis on upper-level education. In most cases, the parents were not involved in their children’s education. Knowing this, and watching the Bahamian teacher persist in her endeavor to give her students a quality education, ignited a new dedication in me to do the same for my future students.
Throughout my various experiences in the Bahamian classroom, I learned a variety of skills, including resourcefulness, utilization of materials effectively, and ideas for motivating both students and their parents to prioritize education.
Throughout the trip, I personally experienced many things I had only ever read about - for instance, I was able to snorkel in the ocean, giving me a newfound appreciation for life underwater. Seeing sharks, lion fish, stingrays, fire coral, and other various types of coral and oceanic animals ignited an interest in understanding their world. To connect all of these experiences, I anticipate being better prepared to teach oceanic topics in my classes. For this and a wealth of other topics related to my study abroad experience, I will be able to share personal information, which will allow my students to establish connections between the learned material and real life situations. It is essential for teachers to provide students with these relevant applications.
Education majors will soon become teachers, and quickly realize their great responsibility for teaching and cultivating young minds. Now is the time to collect the experiences that will better equip education majors in the future. Teachers must be prepared to educate diverse students about diverse topics. Studying abroad can give these future teachers the necessary experiences to do just that- it allows participants to develop and grow in ways that are near impossible when only studying in your home country. Thanks to the Bahamas, I know I will be a more effective, well-rounded, and successful teacher.